Understanding the Causes of Infertility
A brief introduction to conditions potentially harmful to fertility
More than 4.5 million couples experience infertility each year. There have been millions upon millions of couples that have had to cope with infertility throughout the ages. If you are having difficulty getting pregnant, you’re not alone.
There are many known contributors to infertility, yet there remain many cases of unexplained infertility. There are treatments and practices for the former, and alternatives for the latter for those on the road to parenthood. Here are some infertility triggers you should be aware of.
Common Infertility Factors
Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) are probably the most common cause of infertility. Once called venereal disease, after the goddess of love, Venus, common STDs include:
- Gonorrhea, which causes a purulent (pus) discharge that is associated with severe inflammation that causes blockage of fallopian tubes.
- Chlamydia, a sneaky STD, which can cause the same damage but often without symptoms.
Either gonorrhea or chlamydia can cause tubo-ovarian abscesses (pelvic abscesses of the ovaries and tubes), which are walled off, making them particularly hard to treat with antibiotics. Often surgery is necessary, which may involve removal of reproductive organs.
- Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) is an improper term that lumps all of these inflammatory STDs together. Often indistinguishable from appendicitis, it is a leading cause of hospitalization in young sexually-active women. In fact, hospitalization with intravenous antibiotics may be the deal-breaker in trying to prevent infertility in the future when a woman suffers such an infection.
But conditions and situations other than STDs are frequently the culprit in a couple’s infertility. Endometriosis, for example, where cells that form the lining of the uterus begin growing in other parts of the abdomen, can be a factor in preventing a woman from successfully getting pregnant.
Hormonal dysrythmia (an imbalance of hormones) in women can make ovulation unreliable.
Alcoholism and smoking can affect sperm count.
Illicit drug abuse can cause impotence, infertility, recurrent miscarriage, and birth defects.
Infertility Involves Both Men and Women
When a couple trying to start a family begin to get concerned as months pass without conceiving, the obstetrician-gynecologist can determine what level of infertility work-up need be done. Usually infertility is a self-resolving problem, as many couples over-emphasize the exact timing of a planned conception. There are first steps to work up the female patient, but the male must not be ignored; nearly half of all infertility is male-related. It makes no sense to put a woman through expense and discomfort with exotic tests before a man merely has to render a sperm sample. Still, it’s amazing how many men are reluctant to provide this while their wives are pressing on with gynecological tests. Gynecologists must be vigilant to make sure the sperm analysis is part of the work-up early on.
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